Anyone who doubts Art Brut’s capability to release a Best Of despite only releasing four albums need simply look to the likes of Joy Division, The Sex Pistols and Jeff Buckley – all artists that released much less material and yet have greatest hits compilations to their name. Though Art Brut may not have received the kind of universal acclaim the above artists were used to, they continue to be revered by their cult following for their raw thrashing guitars, live theatrics and Eddie Argos’s often shouty, always witty, vocals. If – for some bizarre reason – you are largely unaware of all of this, a listen to ‘Top of the Pops’ should help you familiarise yourself (aside from with the live theatrics, for that you’d need to go to one of their shows or at very least YouTube).
Upon reading the track listing of ‘Top of the Pops’, the more dedicated Brut fan may be forgiven for thinking that the first disc is mostly superfluous. Presenting highlights from the band’s first four albums in chronological order might not seem particularly inventive, but it does put an emphasis on the evolution of the band’s sound throughout their ten years together. As the CD run-time increases, the band become tighter, the guitars more polished and the vocals more refined (even sung in places). Whether the earlier recordings trump the later recordings remains a point of contention debated among fans, although it makes for an interesting listen regardless of which way you sway. For this reviewer, the best of the best of comes near the end in the form of new tracks ‘Arizona Bay’ – the kind of punchy, fast, classic rock that is trademark Art Brut – and the brilliantly self-aware ‘We Make Pop Music’ (“we make pop music for people that don’t like people”).
Nonetheless, the second disc is more likely to excite the enthusiasts given the b-sides and obscurities it contains. While it may seem as though some have been included only to please collectors (the early ‘Bang Bang Rock & Roll’ demos aren’t too dissimilar from the eventual album versions), there are gems aplenty in the form of covers of The Beatles and The Cure, tracks recorded for Berlin Live and b-sides that have only previously been released on black plastic (such as ‘Positively 5th Street’). The only thing that seems to be missing is ‘Top of the Pops’ itself – a live favourite once recorded by Art Brut and a whole host of other bands that has sadly never had an official release.
‘Top of the Pops’ is released on 16th April 2013 via The End Records